Rossi ready to take on off-road challenge of Baja 1000

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Alexander Rossi has taken on great challenges in his career as a Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula One driver, but the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner is embarking on something entirely new this weekend.

Competition began Friday for the iconic SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race in Mexico, with Rossi co-driving a Honda Baja Ridgeline race truck with veteran Baja winners Jeff Proctor and Johnny Campbell, and fourth driver Pat Dailey. The No. 709 Ridgeline is competing in Class 7 for unlimited, six-cylinder, production-appearing trucks or SUVs in the race around the treacherous Baja California peninsula.

Rossi was expected to drive the first leg, slated to begin around 3 p.m. ET Friday in Ensenada, Mexico. Teams have 36 hours to complete the 806.76-mile course with virtual checkpoints along the path that leads back to the finish in Ensenada. The first finishers are expected to complete the course in about 16 hours.

In the weeks leading to the team’s departure for Baja, Rossi completed several days of initial testing with Proctor and his Honda Off-Road Racing Team, followed by a week of “pre-running” the actual race course.

“You drive your section of the course multiple times for a couple of days, with your co-driver and navigator, and make notes – lots of notes,” said Rossi, who finished second in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship driving the No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti Autosport. “The goal is that, once the race starts, you have a good idea of where you’re going, then can (drive) by the seat of your pants a little bit.”

Team owner/driver Proctor, who took the Ridgeline to Baja 1000 class victories in both 2015 and 2016, welcomed Rossi to the world of off-road racing.

“We’ve enjoyed getting to know Alex and introducing him to off-road racing,” Proctor said. “Baja is always tough, but we are feeling prepared to go to battle with a very capable Ridgeline and look forward to continuing our momentum to end this season on a high note.”

Rossi will be the sixth Indy 500 winner to take part in the Baja 1000. Parnelli Jones, the 1963 Indy 500 champ, was a two-time Baja race winner (1971-72). Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, also raced at Baja, as did fellow Indy 500 winners Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Buddy Rice. Indy car season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

“It’s just one of those iconic races,” Rossi said. “There’s a Honda connection, so (when offered the ride) I just figured, ‘Why not?’ I’m pretty excited about it. It’s something new, something different. I’m looking forward to the experience.”

Rossi posted a series of videos to his social media accounts from the “pre-running” testing. Check them out here:

Money shot. #baja1000 #prerunning #honda #ridgeline pic.twitter.com/cHPwEnJnaC

Sorry. This is 65 seconds. But I love it. #baja1000 #hondaoffroad #goattrail pic.twitter.com/cbbgiXvuod

Had no idea the tech line would be so much fun...second only to the 500 parade.#baja1000 #honda #ridgeline pic.twitter.com/RVGznIUAVf

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